A Slice Of Life To Go is an online Christian blog written by Todd Thompson. It encourages people to see the beauty in ordinary moments and to know God’s unconditional, unfailing love in everyday life.

The Value Of A Question

September 21st, 2008

“Daddy, I have a question.”

I hear this often from my daughters. 2nd grader’s this year, they love learning. I wonder what her question is this time? What’s 16 + 16? How to spell “clock”? Or maybe something regarding a favorite place, like “When are we going to Krispy Kreme again?”

“Sure, Emma, what’s your question?”

“Do penguins toot?”

In all my years of schooling and countless conversations with teachers, professors and fellow students, I can’t recall a single discussion of flatulence in the Antarctic region. Even “March Of The Penguins”, the most detailed penguin documentary to date, didn’t mention if their eating too many fish caused that bloated feeling. 

“Do penguins toot? Good question, Emma.”

As an undergraduate student at Northwestern College, I experienced the value of a Christian liberal arts education. My faculty advisor was Dr. Wayne Norman. Many who make their living as scholars prefer to be holed up in libraries and labs, more comfortable with books and Bunsen burners than humans. Dr. Norman’s people skills match his considerable intellect. Anyone who can teach a Statistical Research Methods class in such a way that it makes sense to a 2+2=5 math idiot like myself has special gifts.

One afternoon I was visiting with Dr. Norman in his office. I looked around at all the shelves, crammed with books representing years of academic study and research. I wondered out loud, “Does having your PhD mean you know everything that’s in these books?”

He laughed. “Heavens, no. Having my PhD just means I know where to look to find it.”

He continued. “You know, Todd, students come to college to prepare for a career. Nothing wrong with that. But by the time you graduate there will be thousands of jobs that today don’t exist. The world is changing fast. Chances are high that ten years from now you’ll be doing something completely different than your major. If all you prepare for is what you see today, you’ll always be behind.”

He put a fat textbook back on the shelf. “So the most important thing you can do in college is…learn how to learn.”

Somehow that wasn’t what I was expecting to hear from my faculty advisor. I sat there and thought about it. Learn how to learn. It made sense.

“So what’s the best way to do that?”

“Learn how to ask good questions. A genuine liberal arts education means you can sit on an airplane next to anyone in the world going anywhere in the world and be able to carry on an intelligent conversation. You won’t know all the answers. But you’ll know what questions to ask.”

I’ve never forgotten that conversation. Knowingly or unknowingly, Dr. Norman connected the dots for me. The key to “learning how to learn” is learning the value of a question. I took it to heart. After a couple decades of practice, I ask questions with the best of them. It’s a skill that serves me extremely well.

Dr. Norman was right. It’s all about asking the right questions.

In the asking, we learn things we otherwise wouldn’t.

In the asking, we add to our knowledge base.

In the asking, we acknowledge the value of another person and their life experience.

In the asking, we often save ourselves embarrassment.

In the asking, we are saying, “Teach me. I want to learn.”

In the asking, we are building relationships.

And always, always remember…if in doubt of what to say, ask a question.

As you encounter people this week, purpose to ask more questions. In a conversation, see if you can ask five questions in a row. Don’t use their answers as a springboard into telling them everything you know. Rather, ask another question. Then be quiet and listen. You’ll be amazed at what you learn. And more amazed at the positive impact it will have on your relationships.

Do penguins toot?

Yes, they do.

(We Googled it.)

“Judge of a man by his questions rather than by his answers.” – Voltaire

“The heart of the discerning acquires knowledge; the ears of the wise seek it out.” – Proverbs 18:15


Todd A. Thompsonwww.ASliceOfLifeToGo.com